Who would have thought that the last day of the year 2020 would provide a high-profile promotion of SITH? (SITH = stone-in-the-hat theory). I'll discuss the Dec 31st article in the Salt Lake Tribune below.
SITH is about the last thing I wanted to discuss in 2021, but it's inevitable and, apparently, necessary. I'm posting this on this blog because our M2C citation cartel is also our SITH citation cartel.
For more detail on Church history, see my new web page: ComeFollowMe2021.org. I'll have commentary and links to podcasts for every lesson this year.
(BTW, last year I intended to do the same for the Book of Mormon in 2020, but I had lots of other projects and anyway, I was curious to see how the citation cartel was going to handle the issues. As expected, Book of Mormon Central ended up spending millions of dollars promoting M2C (and SITH), depriving their readers/viewers of the opportunity to make informed decisions. They are the mirror images of the critical sites (CES Letter, MormonStories, etc.) that also deprive their readers/viewers of the opportunity to make informed decisions.
We can't expect the scholars, whether LDS, former LDS, or anti-LDS, to sacrifice their theories any more than we can expect the wealthy to sacrifice their wealth, as we discussed yesterday. For the credentialed class, Zion remains a theory--something for other people to live.
So let's move on.
Warning: this is a long post. I'll be traveling and probably won't post again for a week or so.
I posted a short video summary here. https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/p/video-summary-of-sith-and-new-mormon.html
The article in the SLTribune was an interview with Richard Bushman, the author of Rough Stone Rolling. (see below)
People often ask me about Brother Bushman. I've met him, spoken with him briefly a few times, and I think he's awesome. He's brilliant, friendly, personable, thoughtful. He's an excellent historian, of course. I respect his work. But... he's a historian.
If you're not already familiar with the term "talent stack," you should learn about it. Everyone develops different combinations of talents. We have natural interests and aptitudes. We get an education. We gain experience and expertise. We pursue our interests and develop our skills. The sum of all that is our talent stack.
Our talent stacks are part of our filters on the world. Our brains only process what our filters allow to pass through. Some of that is perceptual--what we see, touch, smell, hear, etc.--and part of that is mental or psychological--what confirms our biases, mostly.
For example, our M2C scholars say they "cannot unsee" Mesoamerica when they read the Book of Mormon. Their talent stack--Mesoamerican anthropology, archaeology, etc., combined with an M2C interpretation of the Book of Mormon--literally filters out information and explanations that contradict their M2C beliefs. That's why they create this incestuous citation cartel and engage in peer approval instead of peer review. It's all about bias confirmation, but to them, their beliefs are reality and everyone else is wrong. They think they're doing a favor to Latter-day Saints by "protecting" them from impossible ideas such as the idea that the prophets were correct about the New York Cumorah.
It's the same with the dominant LDS historians. They have convinced themselves that Joseph Smith didn't use the plates, that he didn't really translate anything, and that he merely read words off a seer stone in the hat (SITH).
Because they're historians. Their talent stack involves finding, uncovering, and preserving historical evidence (mainly documents). They consider the context and weigh the credibility of the evidence and reach conclusions. They think they are striving to be "objective" and get at the truth.
But historians are people, subject like everyone else to bias confirmation. Once they reach a conclusion, they profess skepticism or "caution" about documents that contradict their conclusions. They'll redefine terms to suit their conclusions. They'll omit inconvenient evidence, etc. For a prime example, notice how the Saints book, volume 1, censored Cumorah from the historical record.
Another good example is the "Early Modern English" theory promoted by Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack. They're linguists. Plus, they're members of the citation cartels. Here is an excerpt from Brother Skousen's book on the King James quotations in the Book of Mormon: "“The Book of Mormon is a creative and cultural translation of what was on the plates, not a literal one. Based on the linguistic evidence, the translation must have involved serious intervention from the English-language translator, who was not Joseph Smith.”
Years ago, my Stake President asked if I had read Rough Stone Rolling (I was the stake Sunday School president at the time). He said it was the best book on Church history he'd ever read. I told him I had read it, and I also thought it was great, although it reflected an editorial bias that I didn't completely share.
Many Church members have contacted me to say they find the book appalling, along with the rest of "New Mormon History" promoted by Leonard Arrington, et al. Usually they object to the "anti" evidence, meaning the evidence that differs from or contradicts the traditional Church history narratives.
There are numerous anecdotes of faithful LDS who have found the book troubling. In fact, John Dehlin and other former LDS who encourage people to leave the Church feature Rough Stone Rolling (along with the Gospel Topics Essays) as one of the main factors for people losing their faith. One of Dehlin's most popular podcasts is the interview he did with Brother Bushman several years ago, which I've discussed before.
[Some readers here know I have a web page that reviews MormonStories called MormonStoriesReviewed. I have a few reviews on there, but it's a work in progress. If you want updates, subscribe or follow by email.]
I think Rough Stone Rolling, like most of the New Mormon History, is useful and important but stopped short of reconciling the various historical accounts and historical evidence.
It's important to show all the evidence, for sure. To make informed decisions, people should have access to and consider all of the evidence, along with a variety of explanations and interpretations. But you can't get that from one book.
Rough Stone Rolling omits important evidence and offers only limited alternative explanations. But that's what the book is supposed to do. That's all any book can do!
This is an inherent problem every author faces. You can't provide all the evidence or you've written a reference book. We already have reference books, and even those are abridgments. One of the most popular is Opening the Heavens, but by taking all the quotations out of context, the book is useful only as a quote book, or to confirm one's biases, or as a guide to actual references in the footnotes. And, as I've shown, the editorial bias in Opening the Heavens is a serious problem.
The Joseph Smith Papers are the only comprehensive references and they're not even complete yet. Plus, the notes reflect the editorial agenda of the editors.
Think of Rough Stone Rolling (and every other book) as an abridgement. You can't blame an author for omitting information because it's impossible to include all the information in any one book.
That's why you consider the editorial agenda. What did the author plan (and hope) to accomplish? We'll discuss that below, but first, let's look at how people are using Rough Stone Rolling.
The critics, such as John Dehlin, use Rough Stone Rolling as a tool to persuade Latter-day Saints to question their faith. But they are using a basic logical fallacy to mislead their readers and listeners. They frame Rough Stone Rolling as the most comprehensive, honest, detailed history of Joseph Smith.
Of course, that's nonsense. The book is selectively detailed and pursues an editorial agenda.
Nevertheless, Dehlin portrays Rough Stone Rolling as a sort of reference book, which it is not.
I don't question Dehlin's sincerity. I'll assume he really believes what he says. But Dehlin's straw man is an effective persuasion trick. Latter-day Saints and others who don't know much about history generally, or Mormon history specifically, take Dehlin's word for it. They accept the straw man argument that Rough Stone Rolling is the most honest, or even only honest, book about Joseph Smith written by a faithful Latter-day Saint. Richard Bushman, after all, is a Stake Patriarch and a former Stake President, one of the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers, etc.
Many faithful Latter-day Saints are unprepared for what they read in Rough Stone Rolling. Why?
Most people merely want to confirm their biases, so they read and listen enough to do that and then stop, satisfied. We actually get a dopamine hit when we confirm our biases. It feels good. We like to associate with people who share our beliefs. We meet with them regularly. We work with them. We trust them.
Dehlin and others know that. Because of the way they frame the book, they know that Latter-day Saints will expect to get another dopamine hit when they read Rough Stone Rolling because they think it will somehow "prove" Joseph Smith was a prophet, etc.
Instead, the book gives them an alternative history that is jarring for many. It's the opposite of a dopamine hit. It's disturbing.
And it's a major reason for Dehlin's success. Whether he sends people to Rough Stone Rolling, the Gospel Topics Essays, FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, it doesn't matter. All of these references create expectations for Latter-day Saints that are dashed when they realize these sources are teaching Latter-day Saints that the prophets were wrong.
Then, Dehlin can offer them an alternative source for a dopamine hit. Now, it's the dopamine that comes from confirming the new bias that the prophets are wrong.
It's why people who leave the Church--the "ex-Mormons"--keep coming back to Dehlin's webpage and podcasts to confirm their new biases. It's a constant dopamine hit.
Bias confirmation is not inherently good or bad. It's a core part of our psychology. It helps us navigate an uncertain and unpredictable world. We confirm our biases daily in innumerable ways. If your bias makes you happy and productive, great. But there's always a risk that the bias we're confirming is based on a mistake.
The big mistake here is the assumption that Rough Stone Rolling is actual history. It's not. It presents merely an abridgment of one version of history. Like every other book, it relates some facts and omits others. It suggests some conclusions and omits others. It's not good or bad. It's a tool. It's one of many windows into actual history.
I always say people can believe whatever they want. It doesn't matter to me what you believe. I just encourage people to pursue the truth and make informed decisions.
People who want to make informed decisions will not read Rough Stone Rolling and stop, no matter how it makes them feel. They won't read Essentials in Church History and stop. They won't read Come Follow Me 2021 and stop. They will read a variety of materials, hopefully skewed toward authentic original sources. They will use both their minds and their hearts. They will follow the guidance in D&C 9:8. "you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right."
As I noted above, unfortunately Dehlin can point to the Gospel Topics Essays for confirmation, but that's a discussion for another day.
Dehlin can also point to FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, and the rest of the citation cartel for confirmation. These LDS intellectuals are making Dehlin's case for him. He just has to point it out.
One of the best examples is SITH.
For over 150 years, LDS Church leaders taught that Joseph Smith translated the Nephite plates with the Urim and Thummim. From the early 1830s, critics said that Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by either (i) reading words off a seer stone he put in a hat or (ii) reading a manuscript written by Solomon Spalding and edited by Sidney Rigdon.
All three alternatives were set out in the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed. When that book was released in October 1834, Oliver Cowdery responded by declaring unambiguously that Joseph translated the record with the Urim and Thummim. You can see Oliver's declaration in the Pearl of Great Price, at the end of Joseph Smith-History, or in the Joseph Smith papers here:
You might think that Oliver's declaration, which Joseph Smith helped write and specifically endorsed multiple times, would end the debate.
A few decades ago, some LDS historians decided it was time to deal with "all the evidence." They started what has been called the "New Mormon History" to bring out some of the evidence that differed from, and contradicted, the traditional Church history narratives.
Among these was SITH.
Historians largely rejected the Spalding theory, so they focused on SITH vs U&T.
(Sending the Spalding theory into oblivion is one reason why everyone has overlooked the key role it played, as I've discussed before.)
Rough Stone Rolling was a key part of the New Mormon History's focus on SITH, but lots of people contributed. The historians in the Church History department largely embraced the New Mormon History (as well as M2C), and the result is the presentation of SITH in the Ensign (which I discussed here), the lesson manuals, the videos, etc.
Several justifications have been proposed.
Some have claimed that when Joseph and Oliver said or wrote "Urim and Thummim" they really meant the peep stone Joseph found in a well. That obviously contradicts both what they said and the historical record. Others claim Joseph used both, but that also contradicts both what Joseph and Oliver always said. Some say the "SITH sayers" were all liars who hated Joseph Smith, but that also contradicts the historical record. Besides, people on the other side just say Joseph and Oliver were liars. Stalemate.
In a recent presentation, I summarized it this way, leading to my own conclusions. (click to enlarge)
As I mentioned at the outset, a longer version of this is available here:
The full presentation is also available. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want a link.
I hope by now you can see that it doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with my conclusions. What matters is whether you are satisfied that you've made an informed decision. Did you read multiple perspectives and interpretations of the facts? Did you study things out in your mind and then get confirmation in your heart?
If so, you can read Rough Stone Rolling and spot the editorial agenda and bias. You can read Essentials in Church History, Truth Restored, No Man Knows my History, or any other book about Church history and spot the editorial agenda and bias. But you will have decided, for yourself, what is factual, logical, rational, and true.
Let's consider the bias and motivation behind Rough Stone Rolling to keep it in perspective.
In the Preface, Brother Bushman wrote this:
it is unlikely there will ever be consensus on Joseph Smith's character or his achievements... Everything about Smith matters to people who have built their lives on his teachings. To protect their own deepest commitments, believers want to shield their prophet's reputation. On the other hand, people who have broken away from Mormonism-and they produce a large amount of the scholarship-have to justify their decision to leave. They cannot countenance evidence of divine inspiration in his teachings without catching themselves in a disastrous error. Added to these combatants are those suspicious of all religious authority who find in Joseph Smith a perfect target for their fears. Given the emotional crosscurrents, agreement will never be reached about his character, his inspiration, or his accomplishments.
A believing historian like myself cannot hope to rise above these battles or pretend nothing personal is at stake. For a character as controversial as Smith, pure objectivity is impossible.
"The Book of Mormon is a problem right now. It’s so baffling to so many that Joseph was not even looking at the gold plates [to translate them]. And there’s so much in the Book of Mormon that comes out of the 19th century that there’s a question of whether or not the text is an exact transcription of Nephi’s and Mormon’s words, or if it has been reshaped by inspiration to be more suitable for us, a kind of an expansion or elucidation of the Nephite record for our times. I have no idea how that might have worked or whether that’s true. But there are just too many scholars now, faithful church scholars, who find 19th-century material in that text. That remains a little bit of a mystery, just how it came to be.. . . .